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A Most Excellent Adventure

May 29th, 2011 No comments

“Do all things without murmuring or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14)

Arriving at the Nashville airport a full 2 hours before my scheduled flight to California gave me ample time to check in, pass through security and kick back with a good cup of coffee in the Admiral’s Club. But then a breaking news story came over the television. LaGuardia in New York had been shut down because of a bomb scare of some sort. It was 7am, and the inevitable chain reaction of this single closure would impact travel across the country throughout the day.

airline gate smallMy flight, which had been scheduled for departure at 8:50am, did not leave Nashville until 10:30am. This meant that I would miss my connecting flight in Dallas, so the airline booked me on  the next flight that was available. However, I missed that flight also. So, they booked me on a flight departing from Dallas at 3:30pm.

By the time we arrived in Dallas there were a lot of very unhappy people doing their utmost to let any available gate agent know just how they were feeling. Rather than deal with the crowd pressing about each customer service desk, I decided to check the boards to see what gate my flight would be leaving from. That’s when I saw that there was a flight departing for Orange County at 2:10pm. And it was in the boarding process at that very moment.

The problem for me was that it was departing out of another concourse, and getting there would take at least ten minutes. But, having nothing to lose, I decided to give it a try.

By the time got there I heard the gate agent say, “Zones three and four are now free to board.” That means the plane is almost full and the final passengers are now getting on board.

 There was still a handful of disgruntled folk loitering about the gate area, glaring at the gate agent who seemed as if she were under siege. I paused and thought perhaps it would be best to leave things the way they were, but that’s when she looked over at me standing to the side and asked, “May I help you?”

I knew that last thing in the world this lady needed was one more complaint. So I opted to take a totally different approach. “Yes, indeed,” I said with deliberate theatrical flare, “I am on a most excellent adventure, flying from Nashville to Orange County. I have been rescheduled on a later flight, but was wondering if there was any possibility of getting on this one.”

She took my boarding pass, looked at her computer screen and started typing. I assumed she was seeing what it would take to switch me over. But the next thing that happened stunned me. The agent handed me a boarding pass for the flight now in final boarding – and my seat was in first class!

It was a most excellent adventure indeed!

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Biker, Banker, Bum (Part 3 of 3)

May 28th, 2011 No comments

“And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.” (Mark 8:25 NKJV)

OK, let’s pick back up on my episode at the intersection with the biker, banker, and bum.

Sitting there in my car waiting for the light to change, having just tagged three complete strangers with labels derived from my own prejudice, the Holy Spirit brought to my remembrance the story I related to you yesterday from Mark’s gospel.

traffic lightIt was then I sensed the Lord speak to my heart something to this effect, “James, you have blurred vision; you need another touch from Me in order to see clearly, without any prejudice.” On that day at the intersection I learned a lesson I have never forgotten. I saw men as trees, walking.

I had been duly exposed to just enough Bible trivia to become a man with rapid-fire religious opinions; a Bible “answer man” with little regard to how my views or opinions demeaned, depreciated, or damaged others. I just knew my view of scripture was right, and anybody not seeing it my way had to be wrong.

You know….Biker. Banker. Bum.

I had become quite adept at affixing my labels upon the various people groups in my little world. I saw Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians; Lutherans, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists. I saw Protestants and Catholics. And I saw heretics, pagans, perverts and queers. And if memory serves me here, cross-eyed mosquitoes and bow-legged ants were in there somewhere.

I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. I saw bikers, bankers, and bums.

Indeed, I needed another touch from Jesus. I needed Him to stay with the healing process that His grace had already begun in my life, and bring me to a place where I could see things clearly; to see people through His eyes, and not my own.

The truth be known — that was not a Biker cranking his Harley to warp 3 alongside me at the light; no, he was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died. And that was not a Banker triumphantly strolling out of First National to cruise off in his Caddy; no, he was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died. And that was not a Bum stumbling into another day of hopeless begging; no, he was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died.

And, thankfully, I was not a bigot; a self-righteous know-it-all preacher dispensing judgment near and far; No. I, too, was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died.
That day I got some spit in my eye, you might say, and from that day forward began to see everyone clearly. And that has made all the difference.

Are you getting the point?

Has the light changed yet?

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Biker, Banker, Bum (Part 2 of 3)

May 27th, 2011 No comments

“And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.” (Mark 8:25 NKJV)

One day as Jesus and His disciples approached the city of Bethsaida, a group of people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. The Bible says, “He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:23~26, NIV)

healing_of_the_blind_manThis unusual story has always held a certain fascination for me. First, I am intrigued that Jesus took the man away from the emotionally charged atmosphere of the crowd who brought him to be healed. Jesus did the miracle away from the crowd. This is so unlike many of the faith healers in our day, who do so much for show….and money.

And, second, I am bemused by the oddity of Jesus spitting directly in the man’s eyes in order to heal him. I wonder why the Lord did that; and I wonder how the guy felt about that. On another occasion Jesus had spit on the ground and made a mudpack, which He then placed on a blind man’s eyes. Upon washing the mud away, the man could see. But here Jesus spits directly into the man’s eyes!

Could it be that Jesus, by not doing it the same way twice, is thereby showing us that God deals with each of us as unique individuals? There are no pat answers to life’s complex challenges; no cookie-cutter solutions to humanity’s diverse need for God’s saving grace and healing mercy. One gets a mudpack; another gets spit in the eye! Either way, the miracle comes, and God gets all the glory.

And then, finally, I’m stumped by the fact that the miracle didn’t take at first; I mean, it didn’t work. The man could indeed see, but his vision was as yet distorted. “I see men as trees, walking,” he said. Jesus had to touch him a second time in order for him to see everything clearly.

This is to me the most intriguing feature of this event. One would think that spit in the eye — especially if put there by the Son of God Himself — would certainly be potent enough to perform a miracle of healing. But the story tells us that while eyesight was restored, it was still somewhat foggy. The guy needed a second touch for the miracle to fully set in.

OK, so tomorrow I’ll pick back up at the intersection where I was waiting for the light to change, and wrap this episode all together.

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Biker, Banker, Bum (Part 1 of 3)

May 26th, 2011 No comments

“And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.” (Mark 8:25 NKJV)

A few years ago while sitting in my car waiting for the light to change on a midsummer’s morning in Boulder, Colorado, my attention was abruptly seized by the earth-shaking roar of an unmuffled Harley pulling alongside my car. I slowly turned to look at the rider hanging on his chopper like a baboon in a tree, and I easily sized him up in an instant.

bikerLong blond greasy hair tied in a ponytail; sweaty, red bandana headband; Fu Manchu mustache; offensive tattoos etched on every square inch of his neck and arms; and an undeniable fury swirling about his head like wasps around an agitated nest. “Now there’s a biker,” I thought to myself. “Better give him a wide berth!”

Turning back to see if the light had changed I couldn’t help but notice a smartly dressed gentleman coming out of First National Bank, carrying an expensive leather attaché and walking briskly toward a brand new Cadillac. His was a bright look of capital conquest; king of all he surveyed. “Now there’s a banker,” I automatically concluded. “It sure would be nice to have a guy like that interested in my ministry.”

The light had not changed yet so I risked one more guarded glance toward the biker. In doing so my eyes caught sight of a ruffled old man staggering out of a thick hedge of shrubs bordering the city park. He had spent the night burrowed in the bushes, and I think the Harley woke him up.
He was days unshaven, weeks unshowered, and years unsure. Brushing the leaves out of his matted hair, and squinting so as to ease the flood of sunshine into his blood shot eyes — the homeless man stumbled into yet another meaningless day with patented indifference. “And there is a bum if ever I saw one,” I casually thought to myself. “What a waste.”

Then it hit me. Biker, banker, bum.

The unintended symmetry in my spur-of-the-moment opinions startled me. And as these words replayed in my mind, a quiet sense of conviction began to settle upon me. Somehow I could tell that the Lord was examining me in that moment, and that what had just happened was not exactly what I wanted Him to see. For right then — without any sense of forethought, discernment, or compassion — I had labeled three people I didn’t even know; and had done so with a cavalier sense of self-certainty: “Biker, Banker, Bum.”

I tell you what — let me step aside until tomorrow, and I’ll tell you of an event in the life of Jesus that relates to this awkward moment. We’ll come back to my experience at the intersection a little later. It’s a long light anyway; we have time….

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“School’s Out! Get On With Living!!”

May 25th, 2011 No comments

“You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it!” (see Colossians 2:6-7, The Message).

The way in, is the way on. The same faith and courage, love and surrender, trust and obedience it took for us to take our first fledgling steps in becoming followers school is outof Jesus — is the same way we continue following Him through all the ups and downs, ins and out, tunnels and hills, detours and blockades, on the byways and highways of this thing called Life.

The Bible assures us that we have been given everything we need to not only go the distance, but to make a meaningful difference along the way. “He by His own power has given to us everything we need to live a truly good life, a life that pleases Him” (see 2 Peter 1:3).

The straight talk about the faith walk comes down to this — “School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it!”

Reading a manual on sky-diving is not the same as jumping out of the plane. In the same manner, reading and studying the Bible is not the same as living the dynamic life of faith which it celebrates on its pages. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” we are told.

When we “get with the program” our lives become the best advertisement for the authenticity of Christ’s Message anywhere. And once we see the effects of grace extending through us to others, our lives spill over into thanksgiving — sometimes like Niagara Falls!

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A Masterpiece in the Making

May 24th, 2011 No comments

“All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

“What exactly is God’s purpose for my life?” It is a question asked by every seeking soul through the ages. And our quest is not left unanswered.

Paul tells us plainly in the following verse. God’s purpose is that we “be conformed to the image of His Son” (ch.8:29), and to that end all things work together for our good.

In other words, God uses everything that happens in your life, in one way or another, to make you more and more like Jesus. That’s His purpose for you.

The Greek word Paul uses is prothesis, and it means “a setting forth in His presence.” It is a veiled reference to the Old Testament practice of placing the showbread on the altar in the Holy Place before the Curtain, allowing it to absorb the glory of God before being eaten by the priests. Our lives are to be like this in today’s world; so filled with the absorbed presence of the Lord that others experience Him for themselves when they are around us.

masteroiece 2The classic poem by A.S. Wilson says it best, “Not merely in the words you say, not only in your deeds confessed; but in the most unconscious way is Christ expressed. Is it a beatific smile, a holy light upon your brow? Oh no; I felt His presence when you laughed just now.”

There was a hymn we sang during my childhood, “Let others see Jesus in you. Keep telling the story, be faithful and true; let others see Jesus in you.” Seeing that you love God and have been called accoring to His purpose, now make it your purpose to live your life today so that others may see Jesus in you.

For every day in some way God is using all things to make you more and more like Jesus in your character, your conduct, your conversation and your commerce in this world. Cooperate with Him by embracing with a thankful heart whatever His hand permits through the boundary of His protective love — for there is a masterpiece in the making!

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Lighting Up Your World

May 23rd, 2011 No comments

“And let your living spill over into thanksgiving”(see Colossians 2:6-7, The Message).

The end result of a life well-lived is thanksgiving, not only from the one who lives the life — but from those all around who have been benefited by that person’s living.

The differences between a thankful person and a thankless person are many. One is a blessing to be around, the other is a burden. One brings hope and joy everywhere they go, the other brightens up a room by leaving!

breath of fresh airWhen you live a grateful and thankful life, others end up thanking God for sending you their way. How good is that? This is the life that makes a difference. Yes, this is the life that brightens even the darkest corner.

And this is why Paul tells us to “do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life” (Philippians 2:14-16, Good News Bible).

The Message puts it this way — “Do everything readily and cheerfully — no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night.”

You can be light in some-body’s darkness. You can bring color to some-one’s grey and dreary world. You can bring cheer to a soul that is saddened, joy to a heart that has been broken; hope to those who have lost their way in the fog. You’ve got what it takes to live the life that pleases God and blesses others.

Now just do it — and have a blast!

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Deeply Rooted in Him

May 22nd, 2011 No comments

“You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him.” (see Colossians 2:6-7, The Message).rooted and grounded 1

Paul tells us, in so many words, to “get with the program.” He basically removes all of our excuses for living a life that is less that what Christ has secured for us, and shows us in the simplest of words that we already have what it takes to go the distance.

He says, “You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith.” The Amplified Bible reads this way, “the roots of your being are firmly and deeply planted in Him, and you are continually being built up in Him, thereby becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith.”

Putting it simple and straightforward, Jesus has this thing all worked out from start to finish, and now your life is being lived out by faith in His faithfulness. Your roots go deep, so nothing can displace you. Your life is well-constructed, so nothing can dismantle you. And you know your way around in the Faith, so nothing can dismay you.

And in a day when so many are being displaced, dismantled and dismayed — can you not see the opportunity that the Lord has set before you? Indeed, He has set you in the midst of a situation filled with those who need a drink from your well, and a slice of that thing called the Bread of Life (which you carry about with you).

Isn’t it time you started feeding the multitudes?

(to be continued)

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Simple and Straightforward

May 21st, 2011 No comments

“My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him.” (Colossians 2:6, The Message).

John WimberSometimes we need someone to tell it to us simple and straightforward. No double-speak, no soft-peddling, no pampered words — just give me the truth. That’s what Paul is doing in this wonderful verse of Scripture. “My counsel for you,” he says, “is simple and straightforward.”

And then he says it in a single phrase: “Just go ahead with what you’ve been given!” And he follows that phrase with a simple explanation: “You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live in Him.”

That, in a nutshell, is the secret of the life we long to experience. I once heard John Wimber (pictured here), a man of God who influenced me in many ways, put it this way — “The way in is the way on.” In other words, the same faith and courage, love and surrender, trust and obedience that it took for you to take your first steps as a follower of Jesus — is the same that it takes now for you to keep moving onward.

Day in and day out, through good times and bad, in the face of adversity or in the midst of prosperity, surrounded by friends, or all alone — “just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him.”

Forget about yesterday, and don’t worry about tomorrow. Just walk with Jesus today.

How? By the same faith and courage, love and surrender, trust and obedience your first experienced when your journey began. After all, the straight talk about the faith walk is simply this — you already have all that it takes to make it all the way!

We’ll talk more about this tomorrow….

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Just When I Need Him Most

May 20th, 2011 No comments

“God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1).

lighthouse in the stormIf you had your choice, which would you pick: 1) to have God’s presence with you, or 2) to have God’s presence really, really with you? If you’re smart, you’ll choose number two. But, you must realize that by making that choice, you are accepting the fact that there’s gonna be trouble.

God is with us always, but He is really, really with us in trouble.

Trouble? What exactly are we talking about here? The Hebrew word means tightness. The kind that is caused by adversity, anguish, distress, or tribulation. It refers to a situation or a time of extreme discomfort, any affliction which comes for many different reasons.

God delivers His people from this condition.

“God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in trouble.” It was this verse that led a tried and harried former Augustinian monk named Martin Luther to pen his famous Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Its message is timeless and its encouragement unceasing.

Jacob built an altar at Bethel to “the God Who answered me in the day of my distress and was with me wherever I went.” (Gen.35:3). Job’s friend, Eliphaz, assured him that “from one disaster after another He delivers you; no matter what the calamity, the evil can’t touch you” (Job 5:19). David tells us that God is “a sanctuary during bad times” (Psalm 9:9).

The beloved Hymn writer, William Poole (1907) said it this way –

“Just when I need Him, Jesus is near, just when I falter, just when I fear;
ready to help me, ready to cheer, just when I need Him most.
Just when I need Him, Jesus is true, never forsaking, all the way through;
giving for burdens pleasures anew, just when I need Him most.

“Just when I need Him, Jesus is strong, bearing my burdens all the day long;
for all my sorrow giving a song, just when I need Him most.
Just when I need Him, He is my all, answering when upon Him I call;
tenderly watching lest I should fall, just when I need Him most.”

Jesus is there for you — just when you need Him most.

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